Fighting the good fight Local restaurant manager learns business the hard way
Sam Green/Cortez Journal Victor Nunez flips green peppers on the grill at Beny's Diner.
As a child raised in the kitchen, Victor Nunez is comfortable in a restaurant. As a teenager raised during the recession, he understands the economy. The young manager of Beny's Diner at 640 S. Broadway, is putting his economic understanding to the test.
He watched his family's restaurant fall victim to tough economic times in 2007. And he watched his father pursue lifelong dreams no matter what the stakes.
At 13, his father spent every dime he could find on Vic's Diner, in Dolores, when they moved there from Mancos in 2002. They only had $100 to their name - sometimes less, depending on what was in the register. The Nunez family slept in their restaurant. His mother and father worked open to close, seven days a week. The children grew up learning the ropes of the restaurant business and learning to cook.
Slowly, money became stable. His father bought a home and they began to settle, and find comfort in their new town. Business was good for several years.
"People were coming in all the time for my father's food," Nunez said. "They loved it."
Then, tourism started to slow. Regular customers suddenly limited their spending. Nunez describes a period of six months of good work followed by six months of terrible times. He was disheartened by the stale business that seemed to strike the restaurant overnight. His father, however, was always hopeful.
"We are a very Christian family," Nunez said. "The Lord has brought my family many opportunities. My dad always had faith."
The Roundup Junction was the next door of opportunity that blew open. Even though times were tough, his family packed up their recipes and moved the business to Lewis. Nunez, at that time, had graduated high school and traveled back to California. He heard nothing but good news about his father's new business.
As a technician for a BMW dealership in Hollywood, Nunez was riding high. He met a wonderful girl whom he quickly married. Soon, they had a child. Still in the midst of an economic crisis, he was now looking to his son's future.
"Having a child changed my outlook on life," Nunez said. "I decided I wanted to move back home to raise my family."
Nunez arrived back in Colorado ready to work. He went right to his father's side and immediately found a place in the kitchen. His father had taught all three of his children to cook, and Nunez was proving to be a rather good one.
In 2010, people were still wary about loosening their wallets. The Roundup was doing well but Nunez said he and his family continued to notice the tight spending habits of their customers. Undeterred by the looming possibility of a larger economic collapse, his father, once again, embarked on a dream.
"My father has always had his eye on this place (where Beny's is now located)," Nunez said. "He could never contact the owners and no one would talk to him about it. Then out of nowhere, they called him."
Whether it was faith or chance that allowed the Nunez' to lease the diner, it didn't matter. They jumped right in, making plans, preparing the building and creating a menu of food filled with his father's favorite kitchen creations.
Beny's Diner, formerly the Anasazi Motor Inn restaurant, opened in July of 2011. It was named after the youngest son in the family, Beny, who at 17, lends his cooking skills to the diner when his school schedule permits it.
They have been able to increase business and escape closure by leasing the Roundup Junction location to Mountain High Pizza. The family has now opened a second restaurant in town, One Stop Taqueria, when the construction on South Broadway began to slow business way down. Beny's is the highlight of their family affairs, but the income from the other locations certainly helps to keep their doors open.
"We are very family oriented and we all sit down together and come up with ideas to better our business," Nunez said.
From the get-go, Nunez and his father tackled Beny's together. They searched for the best and most reliable cooks. They immediately adjusted their prices when they noticed people were carefully studying the menu.
The biggest change they've made was to provide their customers with a smaller menu that contains breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers and desserts for $5 or less. There are now only two items over $5 on the smaller menu.
"There are some days when we have nothing but orders straight from that menu," Nunez said. "We know people need to save money and that's why we made this (menu)."
The little yellow menu, was actually their senior's menu. All they did was make it accessible for everyone. They also swiped the board clean, and revised all their prices. Most dinner plates are $9.99 with higher priced items being steaks. Nunez said the menu adjustment drastically boosted their customer base.
Now Beny's often sends out large orders to businesses, sometimes on a weekly basis, they see tourists from all over the country and Europe, and their loyal customers bring them gifts to hang on the walls.
Nunez has kept up with his love for automobiles by bringing his hobby into the diner. Customer have made drawings of cars, framed photos of 1950s' era Chevrolets cover the walls, and toy models of trucks and cars line shelves.
Nunez wants to make Beny's the place for car lovers like him, who pass through town on their way to the next big car show. A place where they can feel at home. Nunez and his family continue to expand their affairs. Their only concern is with their customers, and how they can keep them happy.
"We do our best to make our customers happy," Nunez said. "If there's a problem we fix it right away. Our relationships with our customers has grown since we opened. We try to learn as much about them as possible, and be as friendly as we can."
Nunez credits his parents with his work ethic and faith. Seeing them struggle for their family instilled a determination inside the young entrepreneur. He is constantly looking for ideas on how to better serve the community. He thinks the reason behind their success is their risk taking.
"We didn't have the money when we started, but we did it anyway," Nunez explained. "We don't want to have regrets. No what-ifs. We put Jesus first, we pray and we believe he will help prosper us."
Nunez and his family continue to cater to their customers' needs and wants. As the economy calms, Beny's will keep offering affordable dining for everyone.